How to Get the Most of a Summer Program

For students willing to swap sitting poolside for a lecture hall, summer programs can help both incoming and enrolled college students get ahead in their college careers—especially if they know how to take advantage of these programs.

“Summer programs offer more than credit – they provide something less tangible, but equally important, and that’s experience,” says Katie Barry, editor at NextStepU. “Often students are thrown into college life with little to no idea of what to expect, how to handle their new-found independence, or how to conduct themselves beyond the high school classroom.”

Here are six ways that students can get the most out of their college summer program.

Get with the program before it starts

Before setting foot on campus, students should read about the program—what courses are being offered, class outlines, scheduled social events and any required materials and reading.

“This includes everything from the descriptions and schedules of the courses you’ll be taking, to the list of campus facilities, to the rules and regulations,” says College Confidential senior advisor Sally Rubenstone. “Read the packing list, too--you don’t want to spend the first four days without a pillow and a towel if they’re not provided.”

Get connected

Researching summer programs online is important, but students should also reach out and talk to involved faculty and students to learn more about the programs and their offerings.

Caitlin Jones, the director of summer programs for high school students with the Summer & Special Programs in the School of Continuing Studies at Georgetown,suggests looking for a program's Facebook page.

“We have student ambassadors posting photos about their time here and other information, so it’s definitely a good resource for interested students,” she says.

Take a major/career litmus test

Summer programs are a good opportunity for students to explore potential majors and career paths.

“A lot of students go to the medical institute because they want to be a doctor and it really solidifies their interest in studying medicine in college and beyond,” says Jones. “Other students come and realize that they don’t like this and that it might not actually be for them, so it’s also beneficial in that sense.”

While it is summer, Rubenstone advises students to still work hard and pay attention in summer program classes; participate regularly, work and study hard to get the full effect of a major or occupation.

If gaining credit is a priority, make sure it counts

Summer programs often include labs, field trips, faculty lectures and guest speakers which give students a chance to rack up credits and make room on their schedule for other courses. Rubenstone warns that students should double check that the credits will transfer.

“Many colleges–especially the most selective ones—may not give credit for any classes that a student takes prior to matriculation except for AP and IB classes with appropriate exam results.”

Get to know the faculty

Students should take advantage of the fact that there are often faculty members on campus during the summer and connect either in person or via email, advises Barry.

“Whether they are on campus because they are teaching during the summer semester, are doing research or preparing for the upcoming year, you can find at least some professors on campus year round,” she says.

Rubenstone suggests that program participants capitalize on after-class or evening events where students and teachers mingle, or that they make an appointment to meet with a professor personally for extra help or a special project. Professors tend to be more available in the summer because of the smaller course load.

“Letters of recommendations from summer-program professors may be somewhat useful in the college admission process, especially if the professor actually teaches at that school,” she says.

Be independent

High school students may feel apprehensive about being a small fish in a big pond, but they should take the time explore themselves academically and figure out what suits them best, recommends Barry.

“Summer programs can be intimidating, but they can also be a great way for students to learn just enough about a particular school or area of study before committing to it fully as a college freshman,” she says. “Students should walk away with a better understanding of who they are, where they are going and what and who they want to be.”

Although students may have friends or acquaintances in the same program, Rubenstone recommends branching off as much as possible to meet new people and focus on getting the best exposure to college life.

“You’re more likely to see news sides of yourself, expand your horizons, and find the laundry room or library on your own if you don’t have a buddy there to buoy you.”